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by Mythic Entertainment

cre4-01.jpg (7749 bytes)Before Dark Age of Camelot, I had hit the massively multiplayer on-line role playing game (MMORPG) wall. Though I enjoy the genre thoroughly, I’d burned out on EQ when it became apparent that week-long camps were a fact of gaming life at the higher levels (and I have a whole other non-gaming life that requires some of my time). It didn’t help my gaming ennui any when two of this year’s much-anticipated MMORPG’s--Anarchy Online and World War II Online—had launches that can only be described as catastrophic. So when Mythic released Dark Age of Camelot, an MMORPG of vast ambition and scope, we thought we were just being realistic by expecting the worst—server crashes, bugs, loopholes, uneven gameplay, lag—you name it. Remarkably, none of this has come to pass; in fact, Dark Age of Camelot is very stable as a program and extremely enjoyable as a game. It’s shaken the MMORPG blues right outta me.

mid4-01.jpg (5153 bytes)If you’re familiar with Everquest, you’ll feel right at home with Dark Age of Camelot. Many of the games’ conventions are similar, and the differences between the games are much like the differences between, say, Quake II and No One Lives Forever. Essentially, DAoC takes the basic EQ model, addresses many of the issues EQ players have had with that game, adds a workable PvP system, and offers up a deep and beautiful game world. It all adds up to the best MMORPG experience out there right now.

alb1-01.jpg (5737 bytes)The DAoC game world is set in a time after the death of King Arthur, as three warring realms now struggle for supremacy. Albion is the realm of Arthur. It’s populated by humans, and looks and feels a lot like medieval England—even the areas are named after famous British landmarks, like Stonehenge and the Salisbury Plains. If you choose to create a character in Albion, you’ll have a wide variety of classes to choose from—both warriors and casters. Midgard is a realm right out of Norse mythology, and is strewn with pine forests and snowy mountains. In this realm your character can not only be a human, also a kobold, dwarf, or trolls. Midgardians are fierce in hand-to-hand combat, and your caster choices are very limited in this realm. Hibernia is the Celtic land of faerie and magic, and character choices here include such races as Elves, Celts, Lurikeen and Firbolgs. Magic is the coin of the realm here, and casters are a Hibernian specialty. It’s a tribute to the crew at Mythic that each of these realms looks, feels and plays very differently from each other. The first time my Midgardian Dwarf Berserker participated in an invasion of Hibernia, it felt strange—way too green and unearthly.

cre1-01.jpg (5748 bytes)Though you can happily play DAoC without getting into realm-vs-realm combat, it is the real heart of the game, and what sets it apart from other MMORPGs. As your character gains levels, you’ll find yourself more and more drawn to your frontier areas to protect them from invaders from the other realms, or to handy transport pads to invade their realms. RvR combat is fast and furious, and it takes a good amount of teamwork to capture enemy fortresses and relics. This makes being in a guild good for something besides group camps, getting twinked by higher-level members, and power-leveling (which is near-impossible to do in DAoC anyway.)

char3-01.jpg (6371 bytes)The game’s graphics are excellent throughout. Player models are colorful and well-animated, especially when performing special style attacks. Each realm has a wide variety of great-looking and often unique monsters and NPC’s, ranging from stuff like innocuous-looking but deadly basilisks to awesome giants. Weather effects are nicely done, and even events as mundane as sunrises and sunsets can be very beautiful. But the most impressive graphics display occurs in the game’s spell effects, which are just outrageous.

I suppose the best way to describe gameplay in DAoC is to note some of the ways it improves upon gameplay in EQ. Let me count the ways, ten of ‘em:

hib1-01.jpg (6393 bytes)1. No twinking. In DAoC, you can’t wear armor that’s not intended for a character of your level—you can stretch things a bit, but armor that cons red or purple to you won’t do you any good. To wear really cool stuff, you’ll usually have to get it yourself—you just can’t count on higher level friends to give you ultra-cool items. In the same vein, you’re severely punished, exp-wise, if you group with players much higher than you.

rvr2-01.jpg (6444 bytes)2. Questing. Thankfully, you can usually find very nice items by doing some of the many quests available in the game. And the quests are much, much, saner than those in EQ. For one thing, they’re doable in a reasonable amount of time, and since the MoBs in DAoC spawn much faster than in EQ, you usually won’t have to squabble with other players over who gets to camp spawns.

rvr3-01.jpg (6471 bytes)3. Rational Death Penalty. It’s no fun to die in DAoC, but at least you respawn at your bind point with all your stuff—no more naked suicide runs through MoB-infested dungeons just to get your gear. You take a hit in experience (part of which can be recouped by visiting a grave at your death site and praying) and on your constitution (which can be restored by paying a healer), but this relatively light death penalty allows you to take many more chances, especially since you never lose a level by dying. And since most healers get resurrection at a very early level, you usually don’t even have to return to your bind point.

sp_3-01.jpg (6781 bytes)4. Fun Combat. In EQ, hand-to-hand combat is a bit of a drag. You just sort of hit the attack button once and hope for the best. In DAoC, you allocate skill points to gain special style attacks for certain weapons. You can use these attacks in different circumstances in combat (and so long as your stamina holds out), and it adds a whole new dimension to fighting.

5. More Spells. Lots of ‘em, and you get new ones just about every time you level. No more waiting several levels for your next rack of spells; here you’re always getting some cool new thing to do.

rvr5-01.jpg (7269 bytes)6. Less Down Time. There’s nothing worse than fighting a MoB, getting a little exp, and then waiting for five minutes until you heal up enough to take on another. You’ll still have some down time in DAoC, but healing takes much less time and healing spells seem much more powerful. Less down time=more time for fun.

rvr1-01.jpg (7332 bytes)7. Crafting. Well, it’s still beyond me why anyone would want to spend time learning to tailor with all those monsters to be killed, but those who do have informed me that it’s much easier to be come proficient in making armor and weapons in DAoC; I’m sure there’s still a degree of tedium involved, but to a markedly lesser degree. And since some types of very powerful armor and weapons must be crafted, there’s always a demand for items. You can make some money doing this.

mid3-01.jpg (5558 bytes)8. Grouping. While you can solo happily in DAoC, I’ve never seen a game that so strongly encourages grouping. The interface includes a window that allows you to list yourself as looking for a group, as well as allowing groups to list what classes they’re seeking. The group window not only lists each member of your group, but also their health and spell power status and whatever spells or buffs they have up at the time. It’s also easy to found and expand a guild—there are a lot of good ones in the game, and many of them specialize in RvR.

alb2-01.jpg (7188 bytes)9. Customizing your armor. I know, it’s petty, but I really like this. You can buy dyes from merchants and color your armor in whatever scheme you like. This adds a very nice dash of individuality to the game. No longer does every level 32 paladin look like they go to same Catholic school.

char1-01.jpg (6623 bytes)10. Realm vs. Realm. Have I mentioned this before? There’s nothing like planning with your guild, unlimbering some siege machinery, ambushing some unwary Hibernians in their frontier, and taking an enemy fortress. It’ll take a while to get to the level where you can survive for an extended period of time (usually in the 20s), but it’s one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had.

rvr4-01.jpg (7398 bytes)While it’s clear that I’m very impressed with DAoC, it does have a few problems. First, as with most MMORPG’s, it gives barely enough information to get started. You’ll soon enough have questions that the skimpy manual can’t answer. You can of course get plenty of them by asking around in-game, which is probably the ostensible motivation for this lack of instruction, but as with EQ you’ll soon find yourself seeking out some of the excellent DAoC websites. Here are a few I find most helpful:   Camelot Warcry, Allakhazam’s, and Camelot Lore.

DAoC also has a notable paucity of dungeons, especially when compared to EQ, and players will often find the few in their realm to be overcamped and crowded, especially since rare loot often drops in them. More and bigger dungeons wouldn’t hurt at all.

Overall, Dark Age of Camelot is the best and most fun MMORPG going. It’s big, it’s beautiful, it’s full of variety that encompasses many styles of gameplay. Just when you think it might start getting old, you discover a new area or enemy or item or style of play that breathes new life into it. Worth the ten or so bucks a month to play? Oh yeah, worth that and more. 

Rick Fehrenbacher   (12/02/2001)


Ups: Like EQ, only better.

Downs: Needs more dungeons.

Platform: PC